Understanding Common Autistic Behaviors
We usually discipline children because they consciously act in inappropriate ways, whether it’s swiping treats off a sibling’s plate or intentionally tripping a child on the soccer field. However, a child with autism may not be able to control certain behaviors, and it’s important that they are not harshly punished for them. Some behaviors that children with autism may struggle to control include:
- Biting their hands and fingers
- Hand flapping or rocking
- Screaming or yelling
- Hurting themselves by banging or hitting their heads
- Not looking at people or making eye contact
- Physical aggression toward peers and grown-ups, like biting or kicking
Many of these behaviors stem from children’s struggles to express their needs or desires or understand social norms and cues. You shouldnt place your child in time-out, shame them, or spank them because of these behaviors. Rather, it’s important you work to better understand why they are acting out in this way and, if necessary, try to avoid those triggers in the future.
Autism Discipline: What You Should Not Be Doing
Before I teach you how to discipline a child with autism, lets talk about what not to do. First, children with autism often have language and cognitive delays, making them incapable of understanding the language of even simple rules such as, we keep our hands to ourselves, or we need to be quiet now. A six-year-old might have the language ability of a two-year-old, and that child cannot be expected to know how to stand in line, keep an appropriate distance from other kids, and wait for his classmates to be ready. All children need to be taught based on their abilities, strengths, and needs, not their actual chronological age. Reprimanding or punishing a child for not following classroom rules when he doesnt have the ability to comprehend these rules is just inappropriate.
Secondly, many parents and teachers of kids with and without disabilities dont know how to discipline without threats and punishment. We were never taught this in college or even high school. Even if you took a course in college on classroom management, this classroom management course was not an intense focus on ABA, Applied Behavior Analysis, which is the science of changing socially significant behavior.
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How Do I Handle The Stress Of Raising A Child With Autism
Many features of autismtantrums, aggression, language deficits, limited family opportunities, and the inability to gain independencecontribute to the deep and distinct distress that many caregivers experience.
Parents can struggle with grief, sadness, anger, and hopelessness. They may fear for their safety and the safety of their children. Constantly navigating health care systems and insurance companies requires immense time, energy, and money, leading to exhaustion and financial pressures.
To navigate these challenges, parents should research and access any and all services available to them. They can lean heavily on family and friends for support. If caregivers begin to suffer from anxiety or depression, they should seek professional help. Finding a support group near you is invaluable, as its members can provide understanding, emotional strength, and crucial information.
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Disciplining An Autistic Child Starts Before A Negative Behavior
See, when you say discipline, most people think about harsh punishments for misbehaviors.
But the fact is, discipline starts long before a negative behavior.
Discipline is more about the way that you parent than the way that you punish.
So the very first step to discipline an autistic child is realizing that the discipline has to start before the negative behaviors.
How To Calm A Child With Autism
There are certain calming do’s and don’ts that apply to most children with autism. These are based on the factors that autistic children have in common, specifically:
- Difficulty with understanding social norms and conventions
- Difficulty with following or using non-verbal communication
- Unawareness of others’ likely reactions to behaviors
- Sensory challenges that can get in the way of positive behaviors
- Lack of social motivation
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We Cant Just Get A Babysitter
Generally, when parents need a night away, they hire a babysitter. Simple right? Well, not if youre the parent of a child on the Autism Spectrum. Kids with autism exhibit different behaviors than do neurotypical children. For one, parents leaving isnt just annoying, its disturbing on an emotional level. That makes it very hard for an autistic child to settle down while a babysitter is running the house.
We Are Incredibly Lonely
For all of the reasons already listed, its easy to see why being the parent of a child on the Autism Spectrum is a lonely experience. Parents are with their children all the time. Many will be with them for the rest of their life. That makes joining a community of friends incredibly difficult. Divorce rates amongst parents of children on the Autism Spectrum is especially high. If youre a friend of a parent of an autistic child, ask that parent if theyre okay. Ask if they need something, or if you can help with anything. Showing them theyre not as alone as they may feel will go a long way in brightening their day.
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Im Not An Autism Expert
If you want to learn more about autism and what its like to be autistic, there is one reliable source: a person on the Autism Spectrum. Parents of autistic children can tell you what it is like to live with a person on the Spectrum. They are experts on their own child. But the only person who can tell you what its like to live with autism is an autistic person himself.
Two Words: Gentle Consistency
Children with autism pick up on things differently than other children. For example, your child may not pick up on the irritation in your voice when you ask them not to do something.
These misunderstandings can make traditional discipline techniques less effective. Your child might not understand the consequences of their actions, which can be frustrating. However, you should refrain from any kind of physical or verbal punishment that could have a negative effect on your child.
Instead, be gentle with your words and actions. If your child is screaming and having a tantrum, keep calm and dont raise your voice. All children learn through imitation, so try and respond to your childs behavior clearly and gently.
And now for consistency. Consistency is the key to safe, effective discipline. Most children with autism respond well to structured discipline, perhaps due to their desire for sameness and routine.
Consistent discipline can also alleviate some of your childs anxiety, a common characteristic of autism. Consistent outcomes help children feel secure and confident in their choices.
If your child knows what to expect from a certain behavior , they may not feel as overwhelmed when you discipline them.
In other words, consistency gives your child the ability to predict the outcome of a situation, which is a powerful and necessary step toward independence.
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Disciplinary Techniques For Children On The Autism Spectrum
These positive strategies for disciplining children with autism should be implemented by parents, teachers, and caregivers in a consistent manner. When used each time the childâs behavior is in need of correction, these methods are highly successful in regard to promoting good behavior:
–If a child with autism disregards a home or classroom rule, adults can simply and firmly restate the rule so that the child is reminded of the appropriate way to behave. For example, if the child leaves his or her seat during a lesson, the teacher can say, âYou must sit in your chair.â Children with autism tend to respond well to visual cues, so teachers and parents may want to make signs with pictures or text for the child to observe when being disciplined.
–Redirection is another positive strategy for caregivers to try when disciplining an autistic child. In this situation, the child is led away from the area where the disruption is occurring and encouraged to focus on a new activity. Redirection is often effective when a child is frustrated and at risk for displaying inappropriate behaviors such as yelling, throwing items, or becoming aggressive.
–Because autistic children are visual and concrete thinkers, adults who are in an authoritative position may wish to use the âgreen light, yellow light, red lightâ system as a way of reminding the child to exhibit appropriate behaviors.
Some Children Thrive When Given Structured Hands
Many children I have worked with or have observed, did very well when given a hands-on/visual activity. Examples include playing a computer game, sorting objects by color or object type completing a puzzle, constructing a model car, tracing or coloring in a picture, etc. As another example, some teachers of children with autism teach academic skills through sorting tasks. For instance, an activity about learning colors would require the child to put all the yellow chips in a yellow cup, all the blue chips in a blue cup, etc. Keeping a child focused with an activity they do well at is a great way to encourage calm behavior. However, if the child is feeling overwhelmed or frustrated from the activity, allow a break or a change in the task.
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Autism Causes The Brain To Process Things Differently
Children on the Autism Spectrum process differently things others often take for granted. Crowds, loud noises, and bright or blinking lights, among countless other things, can often lead to extreme anxiety or a total meltdown on the part of the child. As one parent of an autistic child stated, If you are in a supermarket and your child is getting overwhelmed and maybe making a scene, it makes it ten times worse when people around you are giving you dirty looks or making comments.
Disciplining A Child With Autism: Effective Strategies
Children with autism have a large number of stereotypical and maladaptive behaviors. Moreover, they are not able to pick up skills easily and learn through imitation like other children their age. Thus it is very important to teach and discipline a child with autism. However, the usual techniques that we use with children may not be effective. Here are a collection of researched and proven techniques that are effective to train and teach children with autism.
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Distract And Redirect Problematic Behavior Instead Of Saying Stop Or No
For example, if the child is running in the store, remind him or show him how to walk nicely. If necessary, find something interesting to show him and call his attention to it, rather than focusing on the problematic behavior. If he is running in the hall at school, redirect him back to the line, with a short directive such as, Come back to your spot in line or remind him to walk in the hallway. For children with trouble understanding language, try demonstrating what is expected or use a gesture, rather than just giving the verbal direction.
We Dont Need Autism Awareness We Need Autism Acceptance
Youve probably seen the bumper stickers, Facebook posts and the t-shirts calling for Autism Awareness. But as parents of children on the Autism Spectrum continually insist, our society is aware of autism. Its autism acceptance that we need. Though one in 68 American children are now diagnosed with autism, our society still treats autistic individuals and their families as social pariahs. To become a more inclusive society will take advancements in access to services, affordable health care, employment opportunities, Medicaid expansion, fair pay, and more opportunities for quality education.
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Characteristics Of Autism Can Include:
- trouble using and understanding language or certain aspects of language such as sarcasm, expressions, and body language.
- difficulty taking in sensory input in an ordinary way. For example, a vacuum cleaner may sound overly loud, a smell may be extra strong, or the feel of something may be extra itchy.
- a need for a particular routine so they know what to expect as they can become frustrated when things dont go the way they had expected.
- trouble recognizing another persons opinion or understanding another persons feelings.
- difficulty working on or participating in activities with no clear ending
- difficulty switching from one activity to another, especially if they have to switch from something enjoyable to something not enjoyable .
- difficulty organizing themselves in productive play when not directed or given specific instructions.
Sometimes these characteristics lead to problem behaviors at home, in the classroom, or in the community which can be frustrating for the child and the adults caring for him.
Here are some strategies which can prevent problematic behaviors or promote positive behavioral changes :
How Can I Help Teach My Child Social Skills
Every parent wants their children to form relationships that make them happy. Children with autism approach social situations with anxiety and frustration, but parents can help kids gain confidence, especially those on the high-functioning end of the spectrum.
Parents can model and explain social behavior to their child. After a particular interaction, they can provide a detailed, step-by-step explanation for their behavior, including their facial expression, tone of voice, and body language. Explanations and instructions that target the why of the behavior can be helpful since that understanding doesnt come naturally to those with autism.
Parents can discuss social situations the child sees on TV or ones theyre likely to encounter at school. The parent and child should take turns role-playing, so that the child practices playing both individuals in the scenario.
Scheduling play dates with kids in a support group can allow children to practice social skills while providing parents an opportunity to discuss strategies with other parents.
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Things Parents Of Children On The Autism Spectrum Want You To Know
It is estimated that one in 68 children are now diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum disorder, and yet, this diagnosis remains as misunderstood as ever. We simply do not live in a society that is accommodating or even accepting of those who are not neurotypical. Fortunately, parents of autistic children are wonderful at communicating who their children are and why. Below are 30 things those parents of children on the Autism Spectrum want you to know.
Focus On Meeting Your Autistic Childs Needs
Now we know discipline needs to start before a negative behavior, but what exactly do we do before the negative behaviors?
Well first, you focus on meeting your autistic childs needs.
So often behaviors are caused by a basic need thats going unmet.
I mean, how many times has your child had a meltdown and afterward, you realized that they hadnt eaten in hours?
And meeting needs gets more difficult with autistic children who cant always communicate their needs clearly.
So if you find yourself dealing with aggression or a meltdown, first try to think about what basic needs may be the root cause.
Think, has your child eaten lately? Are they thirsty? Have they gotten the sensory input they need? Did they have enough sleep last night?
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Ways To Handle Violent Autistic Behaviour
Responding to violent autistic behavior in toddlers and children requires significant parental considerations. Interspersions, not intensities will worsen the behavior further for the child. For example, lets take Adam, who likes hit the child next to him in school because he likes to hear the other childs reactionHe hit me! Or, lets talk about Sophie who, out of jealousy, throws her classmates stationaries off the table and on the ground.
For children with high functioning or borderline autism, it is often the attention they get from being difficult that keeps children into the habit. For parents, the time to act is now! If you dont intervene today, the problem would only grow, not to mention that there can be another child victimized tomorrow.
While many of you may have taken temporary measures to alleviate this problem, unless you have a longer-term autistic behavior control strategy in place, the child might end up hurting several others and in worst cases, him/herself.
High Functioning Autism Symptoms
- Fixation on Particular Subjects or Ideas
- Linguistic Oddities
- Development of Repetitive or Restrictive Habits
- Dislike of Change
- Focus on Self
- Unusual Movement Patterns
Diagnosis rates for autism continue to rise, especially as parents and professionals become more familiar with the symptoms of high-functioning autism. Many patients are getting the assistance they need to live full, productive lives because their unusual behaviors are no longer seen as simple social awkwardness or eccentricity. As more caring medical and mental health professionals learn to recognize the most common symptoms of autism, the number of interventions available to people with autism will rise.
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We Need To Hear We Are Doing A Good Job
This is, of course, true of every parent, but it is especially true of parents of children on the Autism Spectrum. Raising a child with autism is a lifelong learning curve. As more and more is learned about the biology of autism, parents must keep up with new therapies and decide if they would be right for their child. For instance, there are new supplements, dietary concerns, and feelings about a new friend or teacher. The list of things to keep parents up at night is a long one.